Cardiorespiratory fitness after stroke: a systematic review


  • Conflict of interest: None declared.

Correspondence: Alexandra C. Smith*, College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, 47 Little France Crescent, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH16 4TJ, UK.



Cardiorespiratory fitness programs are increasingly used in stroke rehabilitation. Maximal oxygen uptake is the gold standard measurement of cardiorespiratory fitness; however, no recent publications have collated evidence about maximal oxygen uptake levels following stroke. We therefore performed a systematic review of maximal oxygen uptake in stroke survivors, aiming to observe changes in levels over time, and associations with severity of stroke. We searched Medline and Embase until April 2011, and included cross-sectional studies, longitudinal studies, and baseline data from intervention trials. Studies had to recruit at least 10 stroke survivors, and report direct measurement of maximal/peak oxygen uptake. We then compared maximal oxygen uptake with published data from age and gender-matched controls. The search identified 3357 articles. Seventy-two full texts were retrieved, of which 41 met the inclusion criteria. Time since stroke ranged from 10 days to over seven-years. Peak oxygen uptake ranged from 8 to 22 ml/kg/min, which was 26–87% of that of healthy age- and gender-matched individuals. Stroke severity was mild in most studies. Three studies reported longitudinal changes; there was no clear evidence of change in peak oxygen uptake over time. Most studies recruited participants with mild stroke, and it is possible that cardiorespiratory fitness is even more impaired after severe stroke. Maximal oxygen uptake might have been overestimated, as less healthy and older stroke survivors may not tolerate maximal exercise testing. More studies are needed describing mechanisms of impaired cardiorespiratory fitness and longitudinal changes over time to inform the optimal ‘prescription’ of cardiorespiratory fitness programs for stroke survivors.